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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Watcher’ On Netflix, A Series About A Family Being Scared Out Of Their Suburban Dream Home

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  • The Watcher

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In 2014, the Broaddus family received a series of letters at their new Westfield, NJ home, revealing details about their family that no one knew. They all talked about the history of the house and that the letter writer was watching them at all times; they were signed “The Watcher”. Netflix and Ryan Murphy have adapted that story, first written in 2018 in  New York magazine, and created an all-star limited series from it.

THE WATCHER : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: A family drives along a tree-lined suburban street full of big, well-maintained homes.

The Gist: The Braddock family, who are looking to move from New York City into a suburban home, are looking at a house on 657 Boulevard in Westfield, NJ. Dean (Bobby Cannavale) and Nora (Naomi Watts) see the massive house, on a lake, and both love it. They envision it as their dream home, where their kids Carter (Luke David Blumm) and Ellie (Isabel Gravitt) can play and hang out.

Nora finds out that the listing agent, Karen Calhoun (Jennifer Coolidge), is an old friend who went with her to RISD. Dean also encounters neighbors Pearl Winslow (Mia Farrow) and her special needs brother Jasper (Terry Kinney), who are both fascinated with the home’s dumbwaiter; she’s part of the town’s historical society. Another set of neighbors, Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margot Martindale) grumpily watch the open house on lawn chairs on their yard.

Dean decides that he’ll use all of the family’s savings, including retirement funds, to make a huge down payment. Shortly after they move in, though, a letter shows up at their house. It’s meticulously worded, talking about the house and that whoever wrote it has been watching it for 20 years, and that the person will continue to watch it. It’s signed “The Watcher.” The Braddocks take the letter to the police, where Detective Rourke Chamberland (Christopher McDonald) tells them that there’s not much they can do; they’ll test the DNA on the envelope but that’s it.

The Braddocks aren’t exactly ingratiating themselves to the neighbors; Mitch and Mo cut arugula on the Braddock’s side of their fence, then threaten him when he objects. Carter finds Jasper in the dumbwaiter, and Pearl crazily claims that previous owners let her brother use it. The Braddocks hire Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall), a young security company owner, to install a security system, but Dean is appalled when he notices his not-yet-16-year-old daughter Ellie taking a liking to him. Before the entire system goes online, someone comes in and kills Carter’s pet ferret. Det. Chamberland can’t do much, though, because there are no signs of forced entry.

Then another letter, one that specifically names them and their “young blood”, comes in the mail.

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In tone and content,  The Watcher is reminiscent of  The Amityville Horror .  Because Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan are the show’s executive producers (Murphy directed the first episode), there are elements of their  American Horror Story franchise in the mix as well.

Our Take: The story of  The Watcher is based on a real-life case in Westfield, documented by  New York  Magazine in 2018. In the real-life case, the Broaddus family kept getting creepy letters from The Watcher and never ended up moving in; they sold the house for a loss and moved to a smaller house in the wealthy Union County town, and the case to this point has never been solved.

That alone would have made for an good film, a one-off psychological thriller that could have taken a little dramatic license by adding in some of the people in town who are annoyed that this new money is moving in and making changes to a 100-year-old house. But because this is a 7-episode limited series, and Murphy and Brennan just can’t help themselves, the story is larded down with kooky characters and threatening neighbors.

Yes, the show is brimming with amazing actors; we haven’t even mentioned Michael Nouri as a weird looky-loo asking odd questions during the open house. But under Murphy’s direction they turn what could have been a tense thriller into something ridiculous. Everyone involved with the Braddocks, from listing agent Karen to the neighbors to Dakota the young security expert, are watching  something , and now we have to spend the next six episodes sorting out who’s watching who and why.

And yes, Murphy and Brennan are likely giving us their version of the themes in Big Little Lies, where the Braddocks strain to keep up appearances in a town like Westfield, because their very presence there means they have to be a “certain way.” We know Westfield relatively well, and that aspect isn’t that far off the mark of reality. But we wonder if those themes are going to be buried under the weight of Murphy and Brennan leaning on the odd neighbors and the threatening letters and scenes like a dead and bleeding ferret.

Sex and Skin: We see Dean and Nora having some day sex in their bedroom. Yes, they’ve been married a long time, but they seem to be attracted to each other… until the pressure of having the house, the odd neighbors and the threatening letters make Dean a paranoid mess.

Parting Shot: As we hear the words of The Watcher in the second letter, Dean runs around in his robe to see who might be lurking; he ends up in the middle of the road in front of their house.

Sleeper Star: How can we hate the presence of Martindale and Kind as the grumpy, nosy neighbors? They’re not the reason why the show doesn’t work.

Most Pilot-y Line: “They didn’t even use the wood to make baby cradles,” says Pearl to Dean after she talks about a 90-year-old tree the previous owners cut down. Yeesh. Weird.

Will you stream or skip the scary suburban drama #TheWatcher on @netflix ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) October 13, 2022

Our Call: SKIP IT. In another producers hands,  The Watcher could have been a taut, tense thriller. But with Murphy and Brennan at the helm, it becomes more campy than tense, and even a stellar cast can’t save the show from itself.

Joel Keller ( @joelkeller ) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com , VanityFair.com , Fast Company and elsewhere.

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  • Stream It Or Skip It

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‘The Watcher’ Sucks the Suspense From a True-Life Horror Story: TV Review

By Daniel D'Addario

Daniel D'Addario

Chief TV Critic

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The Watcher. (L to R) Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in episode 106 of The Watcher. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

As it’s gone on, Ryan Murphy’s Netflix deal has revealed how many topics fascinate him — and how rigidly fixed in the past are his manners of addressing them.

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As written by Wiedeman, the story is a nightmare optimized for the age of Zillow; the real-life family at its center (the Broadduses, rather than the Brannocks) live in a purgatory of suspicion, unable to trust the intentions of neighbors who seem benign or quirky. Here, the people the Brannocks meet often open from a position of outré hostility, ironing out much of the magazine story’s insight about the ways in which suburban rage veils itself in politeness.

The cast does acquit themselves well. Naomi Watts has been asked to do more interesting work in the genre in the films “The Ring” and “Funny Games,” but is strong here, though underwritten (her career as an artist is underexplored, while marital tension she feels is more gestured at than shown). Cannavale, when his character’s growing mania over what his family is enduring is given space to breathe, is excellent. Jennifer Coolidge, as the realtor who sold the Brannocks their home, and Noma Dumezweni, as a sleuth helping them, stand out as the people the family meets who have real richness and dimension. Eventually, most other characters on the show come to seem as flat and two-dimensional as the board on which Dean keeps track of his investigation.

It has been an interesting moment for Murphy, whose possibly waning Netflix deal recently bore a toxic kind of fruit. His cumbersomely titled series on the life of Jeffrey Dahmer is an undeniable zeitgeist hit, even as it’s drawn sharp criticism for its indulgence of violence and its blithe treatment of real-life murders. Here, he veers in a different direction, not wallowing in the horror of what one family experienced but using that as a basic template for a somewhat zany, zippy whodunit. By the time we reach a coda demonstrating the trauma and dislocation both Dean and Nora feel, it’s almost hard to know how to take it: Their world is one of so little gravity that it’s hard to understand, based on the oddity and randomness we’ve seen up until the show’s ending, why these characters in an unrelatable, ultimately unremarkable fiction didn’t just bounce back.

“The Watcher” premiered on Netflix on Thursday, October 13.

  • Production: Executive producers: Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, Alexis Martin Woodall, Eric Kovtun, Bryan Unkeless, Eric Newman, Paris Barclay, Naomi Watts, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Scoop Wasserstein.
  • Cast: Cast: Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Coolidge , Mia Farrow, Margo Martindale, Terry Kinney, Joe Mantello, Richard Kind, Noma Dumezweni, Christopher McDonald, Michael Nouri, Isabel Gravitt, Henry Hunter Hall, Luke David Blumm

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Who Was The Watcher? Every Theory & Update

The watcher ends realistically (and that's bad), the watcher causing spike in nightmares & sleepless nights for netflix users.

  • The ending of The Watcher reveals a hidden secret meaning, keeping true to the real unsolved case it's based on.
  • Characters become embroiled in paranoia and trauma due to mysterious letters, unveiling dark truths in the end.
  • The power of paranoia and the unknown neighbor is the central theme, leaving viewers in suspense and fear.

The ending of Netflix’s The Watcher has proved divisive, yet the series' ambiguous coda has a hidden secret meaning. The Watcher is a Ryan Murphy miniseries loosely based on the true story of 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale play the fictionalized couple Nora and Dean Braddock, who move into a new home with their family and then begin receiving anonymous threatening letters warning them against making any alterations to the house.

The Watcher takes many major liberties with its real-life inspiration. Most of the story depicted on screen is fiction, outside the mysterious letters, the location of the house, and the paranoia and trauma that they caused for the couple involved. After seemingly revealing that the titular threat is Theodora (Noma Dumezweni), a private investigator whom the Braddocks have hired, the series finale of The Watcher ends without ever revealing the true identity of the letter-writer. In this regard, The Watcher is true to the real-life story upon which the show is based, as the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Netflix series The Watcher is an atypical crime drama that ends ambiguously. Here are the most likely suspects and theories from the show.

What Happens In The Watcher’s Ending?

It's revealed that theodora sent the letters.

At the end of The Watcher , the characters Nora and Dean Braddock discover that their private investigator, Theodora, has been hospitalized with cancer. In what seems like a classic twisty ending to a Netflix mystery show, the dying Theodora admits that she was the one who sent the letters. She explains that she had bought 657 Boulevard because it was her dream home, only to be forced to sell it when she couldn’t afford the place.

When her husband died, she realized he had hidden away over $1 million. Thus, she could in fact afford the house, leading her to concoct a bizarre scheme to pen threatening letters in order to convince the Braddocks to leave the house.

Why Did Theodora Claim She Was The Watcher?

She was trying to provide closure for the braddock family.

Theodora explains she hired actors to play the pig-tailed woman who appeared in Dean and Nora’s bedroom, all in an attempt to get her house back. However, at Theodora’s funeral, her daughter refutes these claims, and then the Braddocks learn from their neighbor Mo ( Margo Martindale, from the cast of Mrs. America ) that Theodora never lived in the house.

In The Watcher 's rare, dark, double twist ending, it turns out that Theodora was lying as she lay dying, trying to give the Braddocks some closure by claiming to be the Watcher since she was never able to uncover the actual assailant who tormented the couple while she was on the case.

What Happened To Karen In 657 Boulevard?

Much to the shock of viewers, karen wasn't the villain.

When the ending of The Watcher reveals Theodora was innocent after all, the suspicious realtor Karen ( The White Lotus 's Jennifer Coolidge) seems to be a prime suspect. She made no secret of the fact that she wanted 657 Boulevard for herself, she could have been the girl in the pigtails, and she could have written the letters that threatened the Braddocks. As a realtor, Karen was also likely to know all about the house’s secret subterranean tunnels and could have used these to scare the Braddocks into moving out.

The reason that Karen’s dog is killed and why she receives a letter from the Watcher is so that The Watcher ’s ending can firmly disprove the possibility of her being the title villain.

However, like many Ryan Murphy movies and shows , the twist ending of The Watcher completely disproves this theory when Karen does move into 657 Boulevard after the Braddocks leave the house. She survives about 48 hours in the house before she is chased out by a masked assailant, and in that time, she suffers more than the Braddocks did during their entire residence in the house.

The reason that Karen’s dog is killed and why she receives a letter from the Watcher is so that The Watcher ’s ending can firmly disprove the possibility of her being the title villain. Since Karen is the most obvious suspect, her traumatic experience is necessary to make it clear that The Watcher ’s ending removes any lingering suspicion from her character.

In his miniseries The Watcher, Ryan Murphy attempts to balance truth and crime-series tropes. However, his version is too realistic to be satisfying.

Was John Graff A Real Person?

John graff in the watcher was fictional (but based on a real murderer).

Like many true-crime shows on Netflix, The Watcher plays fast and loose with the facts of the case that it is based on. Despite what some sources claim, John Graff was not a real person. The character is based on real-life murderer John List, who did tragically kill his family in Westfield, New Jersey.

List had nothing to do with the 657 Boulevard case and no connection to the story

However, List had nothing to do with the 657 Boulevard case and no connection to the story, making John Graff a fictional creation with a grim real-life inspiration. The reason that The Watcher ’s ending adds Graff to the show’s list of characters is likely to accentuate comparisons between the real-life story and more explicitly supernatural scary stories, such as The Amityville Horror .

Is Dean Braddock Becoming The Watcher In The End?

It would be too much of a creative deviation for him to become the villain.

Dean Braddock’s inability to save his family from the Watcher causes the character to obsess over the villain, leading his and Nora’s marriage into trouble . Like Jack Torrance in The Shining or George Lutz, the patriarch of the unfortunate family seen in The Amityville Horror , Dean Braddock eventually flirts with outright madness by the time The Watcher ’s dark ending rolls around. During a therapy session, he brings up the house unprompted, and, when he tells Nora he is at a job interview, he secretly revisits 657 Boulevard and watches the new inhabitants of the house as they collect their mail.

The show is still based on a real-life case, and the real people involved weren’t accused of fabricating the letters, nor did they torment the next inhabitants of the home.

However, this doesn’t mean Dean is now the Watcher. For one thing, Dean doesn’t do anything actively malevolent. For another, Nora also visits the house immediately after he leaves, meaning she also hasn’t been able to let go of the events that transpired there. Most importantly, although The Watcher follows Netflix's true crime show protocol and changes a lot of facts.

The show is still based on a real-life case, and the real people involved weren’t accused of fabricating the letters, nor did they torment the next inhabitants of the home. As such, even with its fictionalized elements, it would be too much for The Watcher ’s ending to imply otherwise.

What The Watcher’s Ending Really Means

The netflix series is about the power of paranoia.

The Watcher ’s ending is not as straightforward as those of many other Netflix shows, but that is only because it is based on a real-life unsolved case. The lack of resolution in the real-life story is the primary reason that The Watcher ’s ending can’t simply unmask its villain. However, the other reason that the Netflix hit can’t have a tidy conclusion is that The Watcher is about the terror of not knowing your neighbor, of never being sure who you live near and what they are up to, and of the impact that a culture of anonymity has on small communities.

The Watcher is about the terror of not knowing your neighbor, of never being sure who you live near and what they are up to, and of the impact that a culture of anonymity has on small communities.

The Watcher casts suspicion on almost all of its cast and exonerates almost none of them precisely so that the Netflix show can prove that there is no knowing who the Watcher was, and that might be the scariest ending of all.

Netflix has conducted a psychology study that shows a significant increase in nightmares and difficulty sleeping for The Watcher viewers.

How The Watcher Ending Sets Up Season 2

The Watcher season 2 has been confirmed, despite the fact that the Netflix true-crime show was initially billed as a miniseries. The ending of season 1 was incredibly ambiguous, especially since it wasn't originally intended to have a follow-up, and it mirrored the mystery of its real life inspiration. As such, what could happen in season 2 remains incredibly ambiguous, but there are a few hints from the ending of The Watcher which could be clues.

So far little has been revealed of what the story will be and how season 1 set it up

Firstly, Dean's descent into obsession could become a key plot point when The Watcher returns. While he himself isn't being set up as the Watcher, his growing preoccupation with the house and the identity of those stalking his family may lead to him remaining to be involved. There's also, of course, the fate of Karen to consider. She was chased out of the house by the real Watcher, meaning they're still out there and definitely do exist. This means there's still much for Dean to uncover should he return.

However, there's also the chance that the show will take on more of an anthology set-up. This would mean that The Watcher season 2 focuses on a different case of suburban horror, rather than continuing the story of the Braddock family and 657 Boulevard. The second season was confirmed by Netflix back in 2022, and so far little has been revealed of what the story will be and how season 1 set it up, but it's likely that when the first trailers eventually arrive it will be much clearer which key details from The Watcher ending will remain relevant in the show moving forward.

The Watcher (2022)

Based on the true story and the New York Magazine article that covered it by Reeves Wiedeman, the Watcher is a true crime limited series created by the minds behind the American Horror Story franchise. The story follows Nora Brannock and her husband, Dean Brannock, as they move into the home of their dreams. However, those dreams become nightmares once they find themselves the targets of an endless string of threatening letters from an individual known as "The Watcher," a man who stalks them at every turn. With a neighborhood full of just as many secrets and unwelcoming characters, the Brannocks may have taken on more than they can handle. 

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The Watcher (2022) (2022)

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  • Breaking Down <i>The Watcher</i>’s Fantastically Frustrating Conclusion

Breaking Down The Watcher ’s Fantastically Frustrating Conclusion

Spoiler alert: This piece discusses major plot points of Netflix’s The Watcher , including the finale.

On Sept. 21, Ryan Murphy unveiled Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story , a true-crime thriller that has since become, depending on your metric of choice, either the biggest success or the exploitative nadir of his Netflix career. Now, just over three weeks later, as the controversy surrounding that show continues to simmer, he’s back with another new true-crime thriller. Time will tell whether The Watcher turns out to be a hit with subscribers (though I’m betting it will be). But after watching all seven episodes, one thing I know for sure is that it’s the first really good drama series Murphy has made since leaving Fox for Netflix in 2018. And that’s thanks in large part to a serpentine plot that lays the groundwork for an exhilaratingly inconclusive finale.

An adaptation of Reeves Wiedeman’s eerie New York magazine article from 2018, The Watcher follows a family that buys a dream home in the wealthy suburb of Westfield, NJ, only to find that someone else has already, in a sense, laid claim to it. In the real-life story , they started receiving typed notes from a correspondent identified only as the Watcher, who claimed to have been watching their property for “the better part of two decades,” as their father and grandfather had done before them. Along with making vague threats centered on the children—or, as the Watcher calls them, “young blood”—in the family, the letters posed such chilling questions as: “Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard?” There were plenty of suspicious neighbors, but the local police seemed pretty apathetic, even as weird things kept happening. Eventually, scared out of their wits and facing ever-worsening financial straits, they put the house up for sale. Unsolved when the original article ran, the case remains a mystery in 2022.

The Watcher. (L to R) Richard Kind as Mitch, Margo Martindale as Mo/Maureen in episode 101 of The Watcher. Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

An endless list of suspects

These facts form the skeleton of Murphy and co-creator Ian Brennan’s series, but unlike so many other docudramas, The Watcher breaks early and often from the official record. They alter not just the names of the family, which has already suffered through an unauthorized Lifetime movie called The Watcher , but also the number of kids and their ages. Characters are added, subtracted, composited, and embellished to better serve an all-star cast as well as a plot that examines each suspect in turn. There’s no question that such creative license was necessary (the real family never even moved into the house). And Murphy restrains himself from abusing it with the kind of baroque inanity that makes so many of his recent shows so exhausting.

The Watcher does what good psychological thrillers do: it takes everyday fears to nightmarish extremes. One disconcerting aspect of the article is that, rather than uncovering too few suspects in a town that prides itself on safety, it finds too many. The show magnifies that sense of community dysfunction. Protagonists Nora ( Naomi Watts ) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) and their kids, 16-year-old Ellie (Isabel Gravitt) and her little brother Carter (Luke David Blumm), are surrounded by weirdos. The prickly couple next door, Mitch and Mo (Richard Kind and Margo Martindale, a match made in TV heaven), wear absurd matching outfits, orient their lawn chairs so that they’re staring directly at the Brannocks’ house, and brazenly harvest arugula on the family’s property. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, historical-preservation control freak Pearl ( Mia Farrow ) takes the Brannocks’ interior design choices personally, while her emotionally disturbed brother Jasper (Terry Kinney) hides in their disused dumbwaiter. Then there’s real-estate agent Karen (Jennifer Coolidge, maintaining her post- White Lotus Jenaissance momentum ), an old classmate of Nora’s who espouses a sort of demented-girlboss wealth gospel and seems overly eager to earn a second commission by reselling the house.

A private investigator, Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni), whom the Brannocks hire on the advice of a dismissive police department, digs up even more suspects. The cast swells. Former 657 owner Andrew (Seth Gabel) spews au courant adrenochrome conspiracy theories. A 19-year-old home-security entrepreneur, Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall), allows himself to be seduced by Ellie. A local teacher, Roger (Michael Nouri), is known for having his students write anonymous letters to Westfield homes they love. Theodora brings news of a patriarch who slaughtered his wife and kids in the house, then disappeared, in the ‘90s. The possibility arises that Dean invented the Watcher because he doesn’t want to admit to Nora that they really can’t afford the $3 million mansion. And so on and so forth into buyer’s-remorse oblivion.

The Watcher. (L to R) Mia Farrow as Pearl Winslow, Terry Kinney as Jasper Winslow in episode 103 of The Watcher. Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

Every character is a little bit guilty

That the real Watcher has never been apprehended might seem like a liability, but it actually becomes an asset. Instead of inventing a pat conclusion, Murphy and Brennan capitalize on the shaggy-dogness of it all. While the big mystery never gets solved, little ones often do—in ways that only make the letters seem like less of an anomaly. Episodes after we, and the Brannocks, watch paramedics haul away two bloody bodies from Mitch and Mo’s house, it turns out they were just out of town; their troubled adult son faked their deaths. Dean admits to sending a single note, but not the original ones. Then he gets fired because someone sends his boss a video of a strange woman slipping into bed with Dean. We know it was Dakota because he admits to it, before realizing he has no idea how the woman in the footage got into the house.

In other words, everyone is at least a little unhinged, and most have done something awful—including the Brannocks. Dean allows the stresses of his career and new home to gradually transform him into the prototypical rich, white, conservative suburban dad. Fixated on his daughter’s nascent sexuality, he sics the cops on Dakota, who is Black, even though she’s past the age of consent and it’s perfectly legal for the two of them to date. When Dean tries to confront Mo about Andrew’s claim that his three-year-old son walked in on her, Mitch, and a cabal of the town’s elders sacrificing a baby in the basement of 657, she rightly equates the accusation with the deranged conspiracy thinking of QAnon .

The Watcher. (L to R) Jennifer Coolidge as Karen Calhoun, Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in episode 101 of The Watcher. Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022

What’s the matter with Westfield?

Not that The Watcher is just a commentary on conspiracy theories. It’s about the broader, ambient paranoia of contemporary American life. The Brannocks spend a fortune on security and surveillance, but it only ends up eroding their sense of safety even further. Theodora, a former jazz singer, got so obsessed with true crime that she began a second career as a P.I. to distract her from a cancer diagnosis. Moreover, the show repeatedly confirms that people have reason to be afraid—although there’s rarely a connection between the object of their fears and what’s actually threatening them. The man who may or may not be John Graff (Joe Mantello) lectures Dean about church, female purity, and an alarmist theory that predicts the country is due for a generational crisis. But Graff, if he exists at all, is a psychotic killer who murdered his entire family, and thus obviously posed a far greater threat to them than atheists or teen sex.

Regardless of his relationship to reality, Graff embodies something genuinely dark within Westfield: an aging community’s simultaneous fetish for youth (a.k.a. “young blood”) and resistance to change (i.e. historical preservation). This is what makes the place such a culture shock to a family that has just relocated from New York City. Murphy and Brennan pay conspicuous homage to Rosemary’s Baby , from Farrow’s presence on the other side of the young-old binary to the basement baby sacrifice to the name Dakota shares with the Upper West Side building where Roman Polanski’s horror classic takes place. The Watcher is in part a reversal of that movie; it’s the suburbs that feel strange and sinister to people used to living in the city. There are political implications here, in an era of blue cities and red suburbs. But the show complicates that dynamic, too, when the Brannocks move back to Manhattan and find the subway messed up for hours one day because someone pushed two people onto the tracks.

There’s more thematic resonance where all of the above comes from, including the stuff that sits right on the surface, like money, real estate, women working for creative fulfillment vs. women working to get paid. This kitchen-sink approach to the making of meaning has often been Murphy’s downfall. His shows usually turn the artifice up to 11, then preach liberal bromides at the same volume, and it all becomes too noisy to enjoy. The Watcher , with its muted, Restoration Hardware color palette and naturalistic performances, communicates in a quieter register. And its surplus of ideas about what’s wrong with America right now—specifically, what’s wrong with white people in America’s suburbs right now—works because, well, everything is wrong.

The Watcher. Noma Dumezweni as Theodora Birch in episode 107 of The Watcher. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Breaking down The Watcher finale

Which brings us to the show’s appropriately frustrating finale, whose series of fake and partial conclusions leave us no closer than we ever were to identifying a single guilty party. First there’s the compelling tease of Theodora’s own confession. She casts herself as the house’s previous owner and says that she sent the letters, invented the Graffs, reverse-engineered the Watcher based on her own knowledge of the town’s quirks. “This was never about you, Dean,” she tells him on her deathbed. “You’re a good man with a wonderful family. It was about the house. It was such a good house.” Alas, this isn’t The Usual Suspects ; the storyteller, which is what every detective really is, isn’t secretly the culprit. As Theodora’s daughter explains at the funeral, she was just trying to free the Brannocks from what had become self-perpetuated torture—and Dean believed her, at first, because he was so convinced of the house’s irresistible allure.

In a subsequent ending, Karen finally schemes her way into the house, only to be quickly driven out by a flooding bathtub and the murder of her dog. Maybe this means that she was the Watcher—and maybe Nora, who appears in Karen’s foyer to repeat that accusation, is responsible for one or more of the incidents that cause her to flee. Either way, a new family moves in and finds itself surrounded by neighborhood weirdos (who, in a plot point that’s either damning or kind of moving, have now found each other through Pearl’s historical preservation group). In the series’ final moments, we see them all in turn, plus Andrew, staring at 657 and its latest owners. Then Dean is there, too, though he introduces himself to his successor as—yikes—John. He calls Nora before heading home, but when he drives off, we see that she’s been trailing him the entire time.

Like the real case, The Watcher technically leaves its mystery unsolved. We don’t find out who sent those initial letters. If you were expecting a traditional whodunit, that’s exasperating. But we do learn a lot about the Brannocks and their neighbors. These admittedly broad, thin characters serve, individually, as metaphors for the contemporary plagues of surveillance, competition, greed, jealousy, bigotry, paranoia. Collectively, they’re a microcosm of a culture that tells us to mortgage every aspect of our lives in order to attain the trappings of wealth. So it makes sense that, on a thematic level, everyone is the Watcher, even largely well-meaning people like Theodora, in this panopticon of a society. And everyone is doing something they wouldn’t want anyone else to see.

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‘The Watcher’ Review: An Outstandingly Terrifying Depiction of a True Story

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock and Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in episode 106 of "The Watcher."

“The Watcher,” Netflix’s newest terrifying miniseries, is not just a scary show — the horrifying tale is a real cold case. The miniseries follows Dean and Nora Brannock, a couple based on the real story of Derek and Maria Broaddus, who bought a home in Westfield, New Jersey in June 2014. In “The Watcher,” the family’s beautiful new suburban home soon turns into a nightmare when they begin receiving eerie letters from a person who calls themself “The Watcher.” With their livelihood, safety, and image at stake, Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) are willing to do anything they can to find out who is terrorizing their lives.

Watts and Cannavale effectively bring to life compelling dialogue and powerful imagery that transforms the series. The miniseries demands more than suspense alone, and both lead actors are outstanding in their increasingly desperate portrayal of parents motivated to do anything to keep their family and home safe. Ultimately, their performances build tension on screen even more than the figure of “the watcher,” as in each horror sequence, the camera focuses mainly on the Brannocks’ faces and their convincing desperation for answers.

Indeed, the miniseries is not just eerie, but suspensefully terrifying. “The Watcher” sets itself apart from other stalker films by focusing on unexpected sources of fear apart from the main antagonist. Throughout the series, the Brannock’s neighbors are a searingly real source of terror. Each of the Brannock’s neighbors plays a distinct role in the feeling of suspense that builds with each episode — the weird, incomprehensible quirks of the characters are simply unnerving. In turn, viewers find themselves not only frightened by a threatening stalker, but uneasy in the scenes of the mysterious neighbors.

Additionally, characters such as Karen Coulhoun (Jennifer Coolidge) give the series a dimension beyond pure horror — an enticing balance of humorous and scary moments allows the miniseries to shine. Coolidge, best known for similar comedic roles, also displays her ability in the horror genre. Through scenes of witty remarks and unapologetic banter, Coolidge initially provides a much-needed comic relief to the otherwise dark series, making her screams of horror at the end of the series that much more effective.

Moreover, the series’s soundtrack successfully creates a lasting sense of unease and uncertainty. Eerie, repetitive tones turn seemingly normal shots into frightening ones, and the show’s simple yet creepy main theme is sure to stay in viewers’ heads longer than they may wish. Thus, the series effectively establishes a murder mystery feel that keep viewers invested in solving the case.

Accordingly, audiences may be disappointed to discover that the mystery of “The Watcher” remains unsolved at the very end of the series, making for an unsatisfying — but lingering — conclusion. Whether it be the author of the letters, the possible neighbor involvement, or questions about the suspicious private investigator, the series offers many possible suspects that viewers can speculate about while watching and after finishing the series. Viewers, undoubtedly fascinated by the cold case, are likely to spend hours thinking and learning more about the Broadduses long after the credits roll.

—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky .

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‘The Watcher’ Review: Ryan Murphy’s Next True Crime Netflix Series Is a Joyless Camp Fest

The 2018 New York Magazine feature “The Watcher” had all the makings of a taut, twisty and timely psychological thriller that triggered our universal neuroses about the illusions of privacy and safety in our own homes. Journalist Reeves Wiedeman unfurled a years-long saga of the real-life Broaddus family who paid a bit too much to fulfill their American dream of escaping the city and moving into an idyllic New Jersey suburb, only to find themselves trapped in a nightmare: Almost immediately after settling in, they begin receiving sinister letters threatening them and their children. The situation spins out of control, sending the family into paranoia (both justified and not) that pits neighbor against neighbor.

It’s easy to see why six different studios were eager to snap up the screen rights to Wiedeman’s feature, but it feels as though Netflix was trying to burn off this premium piece of IP … despite also throwing what was undoubtedly an enormous budget at it. The streamer’s second Ryan Murphy-helmed true-crime limited series in less than a month following the mammoth launch of “Dahmer,” “The Watcher” adaptation drains all the potential relatability and genuine terror out of the source material. With a subtler hand, and a much shorter runtime, a film could have explored the rich themes of the dark side of upward mobility and the erosion of civility among neighbors while serving up subtle but real scares, toying with the idea that the titular letter-writer could be any smiling neighbor at the grocery store.

Also Read: Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale Go Up Against a Stalker in Netflix’s ‘The Watcher’ Trailer (Video)

The neighbors in Murphy’s “The Watcher” wouldn’t be even remotely recognizable in the real world, so we get none of that all-too-believable dread. Instead, the fictionalized Nora and Dean Brannock (Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) encounter a parade of caricatures in Westfield, New Jersey, each only too happy to rant about property lines and “you city folk.” Directly over the hedge of their new dreamhouse are Margo Martindale and Richard Kind, who are put to poor use as a bizarre Boomer couple who tell Dean to watch himself within seconds of meeting him. Mia Farrow and Terry Kinney play Pearl and Jasper Willow, a mother and son who walked straight out of “American Gothic.” Jennifer Coolidge manages to delight, as always, as a real estate agent who should be cast in “Selling Turnpike.”

If you know anything about the actual story, it’s hard to find anything to enjoy even in the fun performances. Murphy’s sledgehammer-like writing (he co-wrote and co-created the series with Ian Brennan, his partner on “Glee” and recently “Dahmer”) and cheap jump scares make for delicious entertainment when paired with the right subject matter, but “The Watcher” needed much more nuance and a 90-minute or less runtime. Yet even with seven episode, we don’t get a slow build of animosity and dread — we get dead ferrets and ridiculous monologues (including a surreal one from Noma Dumezweni as a jazz singer turned private investigator) and a bizarre subplot involving a 19-year-old security equipment entrepreneur (Henry Hunter Hall), all within the first episode.

If you’re in the mood for pure camp, “The Watcher” will entertain you for an hour or so before you’re yelling at it to get off your lawn.

“The Watcher” is now streaming on Netflix.

Also Read: ‘Dahmer’ Marks Ryan Murphy’s First Monster Hit for Netflix After 4 Years and a Half Dozen Tries

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The true story behind Netflix's The Watcher : Here's what really happened (and what didn't)

EW breaks down fact versus fiction in Ryan Murphy's horrifying TV series inspired by a real family that received threatening letters from an anonymous stalker.

the watcher movie review netflix

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Watcher .

Moving is a drag. Getting letters from a stalker the moment you settle into your new home, however, is pure hell. The story at the center of Ryan Murphy 's new Netflix series starring Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale might sound like a twisted work of fiction, but it's deeply rooted in the actual tale of a wealthy suburban family whose new life in an idyllic Westfield, N.J. home quickly turned into a nightmare after an anonymous person began dropping threatening notes into their mailbox shortly after their arrival.

Below, EW breaks down highlights from the show and the true stories behind them, and we get to the bottom of what the show invented for the sake of (admittedly petrifying) art.

Did someone calling themself "The Watcher" really torment a New Jersey family?

Yes. There wouldn't be the TV series without this foundational true crime story. As outlined in a 2018 piece published by The Cut , Derek and Maria Broaddus (portrayed by Cannavale and Watts as Dean and Nora Brannock in the series) moved into 657 Boulevard (the same address used in the program) in Westfield, N.J., in 2014 before they received a string of bone-chilling letters from an anonymous stalker claiming to be a protective "Watcher" of the building. The ordeal turned into a years-long saga involving dramatic clashes with an odd assortment of neighbors and extreme paranoia festering among the Broadduses and their children.

Though their names were changed for the series, which heavily embellishes other details of their lives and horror story, The Watcher writers incorporated real text from the letters sent to the Broadduses, including the bits about the Watcher desiring "young blood."

Are creepy neighbors Jasper and Pearl based on real people?

Seemingly, yes. In the show, Jasper (Terry Kinney) and Pearl Winslow ( Mia Farrow ) are the first set of peculiar neighbors that Nora and Dean meet upon arriving in Westfield. Instead of formally greeting them, Jasper meets the family after pulling his head out of a dumbwaiter and launches into a disturbing assertion about the human skeleton, telling them that a baby skeleton has "100 more bones than an adult skeleton." He pops up several times throughout the series, mostly after entering the private residence without permission — the Brannocks' son finds him hiding in the dumbwaiter at night, and he often wanders across their property line without permission, though Pearl promises the prior owners allowed him to explore at his will.

Pearl and Jasper seemed to be based on the Langford family, described as "a bit odd" in the Cut piece. Siblings Michael — who'd been diagnosed as a schizophrenic — and Abby Langford had lived in the neighboring house with their mother, Peggy, since the 1960s, and the Broadduses initially speculated that Michael was the behind the letters, though several police interviews with him didn't produce prosecutable evidence to support their suspicions.

And, while it's a nice touch that leads to some effective scares in the series, there's no mention of a dumbwaiter inside 657 Boulevard in the original article.

Mitch and Mo: Did neighbors actually watch the family from lawn chairs, and were they in a baby-eating blood cult?

Yes, but thankfully only the first part. Characters Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale) balance effective comedic relief (there's nothing funnier than the latter calling her neighbors "motherf---ers" while standing at the Brannocks' fence with her husband in matching tracksuits) with genuine scares through their multi-episode arc on the show, and their actions are also based on those of real people.

Bill Woodward, the Broadduses' housepainter, reported that he saw the couple who lived behind 657 Boulevard sitting on a pair of lawn chairs facing the family's home.

"One day, I was looking out the window and I saw this older guy sitting in one of the chairs," Woodward told The Cut . "He wasn't facing his house — he was facing the Broadduses.'"

There is not, however, evidence to support that, as one character accuses, the real-life couple was ever involved in a satanic cult that killed babies to drink their blood.

Was Pearl's Westfield Preservation Society real?

Not quite, but there was a Westfield Planning Board, which facilitated complications for the Broadduses after the family announced a proposal to sell the property to a developer who'd split it into two separate lots for new homes. The Cut reported that 100 locals showed up to a Planning Board meeting in January 2017, though, unlike Pearl, their issue wasn't with butcher block countertops or 657 Boulevard's internal aesthetics.

The real-life gathering morphed into a three-hour hearing, with some neighbors expressing concern over everything from the threat of knocking down trees (hello, Pearl!) to voicing distaste over the thought of the new houses having displeasing front-facing garages. Abby Langford also spoke at the meeting, stressing that she'd "spent almost 60 years looking at a magnificent, beautiful house" and didn't "want to be looking out at a driveway."

What about Theodora Birch? Did a cancer-stricken private investigator assist in the search?

As fabulous as Noma Dumezweni is as Theodora Birch, sadly, the jazz-singer-turned-private-investigator who helps the Brannocks sniff the Watcher's trail appears to be a fictional icon. The Broadduses did hire a private investigator to snoop on their behalf, but The Cut 's piece makes no mention of said sleuth being a gorgeous British woman with impeccable taste in coats and gloves.

Surely, Jennifer Coolidge's pink-loving Westfield real estate agent, Karen, is an actual human being?

Nope. Country clubs and zero-dressing salads occupied no real space in the Broadduses story. But, you can soothe your soul by watching Karen call Nora a "c--t" in episode 7 — perhaps the best line delivery in the history of television — on a loop to get your fix for chaotic women.

Was the John Graff murder sequence inspired by a real story?

Shockingly, yes. After a mysterious man enters the Brannock home claiming to be a property inspector, Dean begins to suspect that the man is actually an on-the-run mass murderer who killed his entire family inside 657 Boulevard. Theodora's research uncovers that a past resident, John Graff, received menacing letters from the Watcher as well, which preceded a grisly crime that saw him shoot his wife in the back of the head before killing his mother on the second floor of the house. He then waited for his daughter to return home from school before shooting her, and ultimately traveled to his son's basketball game, drove him back to the house, and shot him when they walked through the door. Between the slayings, John calmly eats a sandwich and washes it down with a glass of milk.

It might seem like a fictional bloodbath concocted for TV, but John Graff was inspired by the real crimes of John List , who, on Nov. 9, 1971, killed his family in identical fashion. Like Graff, List similarly lost his job, and gradually bled out his mother's savings before killing her and his wife inside their house. He also ambushed two of his children when they returned home from school, and it's rumored that he made himself lunch between the killings, after which he reportedly traveled to his oldest son's soccer game and shot him later that night.

List went on the run, and wasn't captured until an episode of America's Most Wanted chronicled his crimes. A woman who saw the show told authorities she thought her neighbor , a churchgoing accountant named Robert Clark, looked like the image of List she'd seen on the show. Clark turned out to be List, who'd built a new life for himself in the Virginia suburbs. He was arrested in 1989 , convicted and sentenced to five life terms in prison. He died in 2008 as a result of complications from pneumonia.

The Watcher creatively weaves List's story into the central tale with some fabrications, as List — who murdered his family 33 years before the Broadduses purchased 657 Boulevard — was never directly involved in the letter incident, even though he killed his wife, mother, and children in the same New Jersey town.

The finale: Did they ever find the real Watcher, and what happened to the house?

Murphy's series finishes with a chilling title card noting that "The Watcher case remains unsolved." While the seven-episode show is a work of fiction loosely based on real events, that part is true. The person — or people — sending letters to the Broaddus family was never caught.

Derek and Maria Broaddus made a home elsewhere, and it took them five years to formally sell 657 Boulevard, though renters inhabited the space for some time. The house still stands, and the listing agent who eventually sold it to a young couple in 2019 for $959,000 (nearly $400,000 less than what the Broadduses paid for it in 2014) tells EW he had to overcome significant "stigma" attached to the house in order to find a new buyer.

"That was our biggest hurdle: Trying to get over that stigma. Plus, you had people riding by the house, taking pictures, walking up to the front door, it was crazy," David Barbosa, owner of David Realty Group, says, adding that he required potential purchasers to meet with an attorney to sign off on knowing the full history of the property before putting in an offer.

One man, whom Barbosa remembers confidently told him that he didn't "give a s---" about the hostile letters the Broadduses received, backed out after delving deeper into the case: "He went down to the attorney's office and called me and said, 'Yeah, I'm out.' He just said, 'Listen, after reading everything, there's no way I'm going in that house,'" Barbosa says with a laugh.

The series' final moments expand upon the last words of the Cut article; the show ends with Dean keeping tabs on his former home and lying about his whereabouts on a phone call with Nora, who's revealed — moments later — to be scoping out the neighborhood as well, while the article finishes with Derek admitting that the intrusive thoughts the Watcher conjured within him, even after they moved on from the house, felt "like cancer" every day. The piece ends with a quote from the fourth letter: "You are despised by the house. And The Watcher won" — both works pay tribute to this sentiment, albeit in different ways.

Check out our daily must-see picks — plus news, celeb interviews, trivia, and more — on EW's What to Watch podcast.

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Surrender to the Batshittery That Is The Watcher

Portrait of Jen Chaney

“It knows what scares you” was the tagline for 1982’s Poltergeist , a horror classic that doubled as a cautionary tale about the dark side of desirable suburban real estate. The Watcher , the new Netflix series created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, is also a suburban-real-estate cautionary tale that knows what scares you. More than that, though, it knows what obsesses you.

This limited series — based loosely on the story Reeves Wiedeman wrote for this magazine about a couple who bought their dream house in Westfield, New Jersey, only to be terrorized by anonymous letters from someone who creepily called themselves “The Watcher” — is subtextually a commentary on a variety of contemporary fixations. Among them: the housing market, home renovation, conspiracy theories, alcoholism, social media, and, of course, money. Murphy, Brennan, and their fellow writers and filmmakers (several of whom also worked on the duo’s extremely popular Dahmer ) throw a kitchen sink of issues and true-crime tropes into these episodes, as well as a kitchen island controversially accented with butcher-block countertops. While that approach has its problems, namely an abundance of plot holes and red herrings, it makes for absorbing television, in part because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Watcher can be over the top, but like the best of Murphy’s work, it knows it’s being over the top and often leans into its own excessiveness with a wink and a smirk. This is an addictive work of television that invites us to examine our own frivolous, sometimes dangerous addictions.

Like the true story on which it is based, The Watcher follows a married couple, Dean and Nora Brannock (Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts), as they purchase a majestically large house an hour outside of New York City at the coveted address of 657 Boulevard. Like the couple that had this experience in real life, they begin to receive letters from an anonymous writer who says they are watching the house and implies it may be haunted. The details in the letters — about the Brannocks’ children, Ellie (Isabel Gravitt) and Carter (Luke David Blumm), and the family’s behavior — become increasingly specific and disturbing. The Broadduses, the couple who actually went through this traumatic experience, never moved into 657 Boulevard. But in the Netflix version, the Brannocks, who sink literally all of their savings into the property, fully occupy the home while attempting to figure out who’s harassing them and why, an effort that, particularly for Dean, becomes all consuming.

Beyond that basic outline, Murphy and Brennan, who between them share co-writing credits on all seven episodes (Murphy also directs two), take significant liberties with the truth, which is probably for the best since the Broadduses apparently asked to make the fictional family resemble them as little as possible . Consequently, a series of events that was genuinely bizarre becomes even freakier once the writers start sprinkling in even more wild details. Ryan Murphy’s Law very much applies here: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong in the most batshit way possible. Within the context of The Watcher , I really do mean that as a compliment.

Not long after settling in and starting to refurbish their kitchen, the Brannocks establish tense relationships with several of their neighbors, including Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale), a husband and wife who have no compunctions about coming into the Brannocks’ yard to pluck arugula. “Let’s go make the most delicious fucking salad of our entire lives,” Mo hisses in Dean’s direction after he shouts at them for trespassing in the name of lettuce collection.

Eccentric local historian Pearl Winslow (an astutely cast Mia Farrow) and her intellectually disabled brother Jasper (Terry Kinney) also have a tendency to pop up unannounced, sometimes even in the house’s dumbwaiter. The people that Nora and Dean turn to for help — an arrogant, unmotivated local police detective (Christopher McDonald); a young security specialist named Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall), who takes an interest in Ellie; and friend/real-estate agent Karen Calhoun (Jennifer Coolidge) — offer only modest help. They have better luck once they hire Theodora Birch (an authoritative Noma Dumezweni), a private investigator more willing to follow leads than the cops. But that “better luck” propels Dean down a rabbit hole of paranoia and mad theorizing, jeopardizing his marriage and his career while turning everyone in the Brannocks’ orbit into a potential suspect.

How easy it is to get sucked into true crime, whether it involves you personally or is something you’re consuming as content — this is a dynamic that The Watcher understands well. This show shouts out every cockamamie possible explanation for those letters with the deranged glee of someone who just snorted a mountain of Adderall, watched every episode of the original The Staircase as well as the scripted version of The Staircase, and is extremely eager to share their many thoughts about the owl theory. Watching The Watcher is undeniably a rush, so much so that even when certain plot twists don’t make sense — and trust me that many of them do not — it doesn’t even matter. Forget about logic, just give us another hit of the sweet, preposterous idea that there’s an underground blood cult terrorizing Bobby Cannavale.

It helps, too, that the cast is so fully committed. Cannavale and Watts are not shy about leaning into their characters’ less attractive qualities. Nora’s a bit of a social climber, while Dean is impulsive and not always honest, which bolsters the notion that we should be wary of everyone in this auspicious Jersey Zip Code. Coolidge makes sure that Karen really lives up to her name — “We’re not ready yet,” she tells a server at the local country club, “and my napkin smells like vinegar” — and infuses her with a wonderfully odd combination of real-estate agent chipperness and Debbie Downer bluntness. “I don’t want to bum you out,” she tells Nora at one point with utter sincerity, “but I don’t think Dean’s going to be employed much longer.”

Then there’s Farrow, the onetime Rosemary’s Baby star who seems to be having a ball as Pearl, the kind of busybody chatterbox who quickly becomes your worst nightmare if she engages you in conversation. She regularly delivers hilarious lines — “Butcher-block countertops? Are you turning your house into a delicatessen?” she squawks at Dean — with a perfectly measured deadpan that makes it clear Pearl has no idea how strangely she comes across. The Watcher ’s evocation of classic horror doesn’t end with Farrow’s presence, either. The desaturated color palette and piano-centered score composed by Morgan Kibby and David Klotz, and some of the story beats, are reminiscent of not only Rosemary’s Baby but also ’70s scare fare like The Omen , The Exorcist, and John Carpenter’s original Halloween . Unlike Dahmer or much of American Horror Story , this Murphy project doesn’t overdo it with the gore. This is a work of psychological horror, pretty much full stop.

Murphy & Co. couple that vibe with an obvious desire to capture the zeitgeist of the COVID era. Many of the societal concerns that have taken center stage since the pandemic began — cancel culture, QAnon, religious extremism, the sense that danger cannot be escaped even in supposed safe spaces like one’s own home — are aggressively nodded to here. The longer you watch The Watcher , the more you start to feel like Dean, untethered, like you’re living in a world that has become completely cockeyed. Yes, there is a long list of quibbles and questions that can legitimately be raised about just about everything that happens in this series. But that also feels weirdly appropriate. The Watcher is a series about how it feels when nothing makes sense anymore. Regardless of where you live, we’ve all been there.

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Julia ( Maika Monroe ) knows that something is not right. Something is really, really "off" about the guy in the apartment building across the way, always staring at her. But when called upon to express her feelings, Julia falters. She can't find the words to express the sense of threat. She wonders if she's being paranoid. Or maybe it's her insomnia. She's new to Bucharest and doesn't speak the language. In general, she's disoriented and lonely. So maybe she's just not "reading" things correctly. Julia rationalizes away her growing sense of uneasiness and dread, she tries to talk herself out of her own perception, but still, her gut tells her: There is something not right here. I am not making this up. I am not overreacting. I am in danger. She should listen to her gut.

Chloe Okuno's "Watcher," a chilly and elegant thriller, embodies Julia's state of mind in every aspect: the visuals, sound design, production design, color scheme, not to mention Monroe's visceral central performance—all work together to express Julia's point of view, so much so that doubt arises in regards to Julia's reliability as the narrator of her own life. This is a stylized affair, and the care taken with every choice—the apartment interior, the furnishings, the color of the curtains, Julia's red sweater and red tights, etc.—is meticulous. The film crackles with icy dread. Silences are loud and sounds are even louder. Nothing has the right proportion. Ceilings are too high, stairways too long. Voices emerge as if from the bottom of a well. Spaces are empty that should be full and vice versa. The mundane is terrifying, and the terrifying seduces. Nothing feels right. This is highly subjective filmmaking. "Watcher" is Okuno's first feature, as well as a first feature for the cinematographer, Benjamin Kirk Nielsen , and the two together make a powerful team.

Julia and her husband Francis ( Karl Glusman ) have moved to Bucharest. He is half-Romanian, speaks the language, and works long hours, leaving Julia—transplanted, adrift—to her own devices. Trouble starts immediately in the cab ride from the airport to their new apartment. Francis and the taxi driver chat in Romanian. Julia doesn't understand a word being said. She is disoriented, especially when the two men appear to be talking about her. Okuno does not use subtitles, and this makes Julia's frustrations our own. She hovers on the sidelines, asking Francis, "What did he say? What did she say?" As the two enter their new apartment building, she glances up at the building across the way, and sees something eerie. In a wall of darkened windows, there's one that's dimly lit, and a man ( Burn Gorman ) stands there, staring down at them. It's probably nothing.

But every time she looks out her window, he's there. Thus begins Julia's emotional disintegration, beautifully tracked by Monroe, each scene building on what came before, until she is nearly unrecognizable from the woman we met at the start of the film. Julia starts to see the "watcher" out and about. He's sitting behind her at a matinee of Stanley Donen's "Charade" (or is he? It's hard to tell), Later, she sees him again at the grocery store. Julia is now legitimately spooked. Francis is somewhat supportive of his wife—or he tries to be—but he is also baffled at the turmoil his wife has descended into. There's a distinct sense from him that she's making a huge deal out of nothing.

"Watcher" is about the confusion between the voyeur and the voyeur's "object." When he looks at her, she looks back. She is as aware of him as he is of her. She's a "watcher" too. The boundaries blur. He infiltrates her every waking moment. But the terrifying thing is that no crime has been committed. It's not a crime to stand at your window and stare out at the opposite building. Such behavior is part of city life, as is people-watching. Much of this is well-trod ground (particularly Hitchcockian ground), and the references to " Rear Window ," both visually and thematically, are everywhere. But the film's acute psychological portrait of a scared lost woman, sleepless and possibly hallucinating, condescended to (lovingly, even worse) by the man who's supposed to have her back, is most reminiscent of "Rosemary's Baby," and the film's careful attention to interiors—doors left ajar, blind corners, vast uncrossable spaces, cramped elevators—is Polanski territory. Another Polanski film, "Repulsion," provides poignant reference points. Julia, wandering through the cavernous apartment, pinned to the spot by the watcher across the way, loses all sense of time, of her own self and its contours, just like Catherine Deneuve does in "Repulsion."

Julia the character is thinly drawn. This serves the genre (she's a projector screen for free-floating audience anxieties), but also makes her seem a bit of a cipher. Julia was an actress, and she gave it up to come to Romania with her husband. Does she have resentment about this? Was she in movies or theatre? Was she just "aspiring"? What's her plan now? Monroe's performance makes you forget the gaps in the character. She is simple and direct in her approach, and we watch as terror co-opts her life. Fear is not an emotion so much as it is an attack on the entire self. All systems shut down. Monroe embodies this.

While there are numerous "confrontations" in "Watcher," the terror here is mostly from the threat of what might happen. There's nothing scarier than that. The mind can imagine anything.

Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms on June 21st.

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Watcher (2022)

Rated R for some blood violence, language, and some sexual material/nudity.

Maika Monroe as Julia

Karl Glusman as Francis

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A married couple moving into their dream home are threatened by terrifying letters from a stalker, signed - "The Watcher." A married couple moving into their dream home are threatened by terrifying letters from a stalker, signed - "The Watcher." A married couple moving into their dream home are threatened by terrifying letters from a stalker, signed - "The Watcher."

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This suburban nightmare sometimes achieves the campy fright of creator Ryan Murphy's best horror fare, but it sprawls in too many ludicrous directions to satisfy.

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The Watcher – Netflix Series Review

Posted by Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard | Oct 13, 2022 | 4 minutes

The Watcher – Netflix Series Review

THE WATCHER on Netflix is a new horror, drama, and mystery mini-series based on a true story. With an amazing cast, a story that’ll scare most people, and a crazy development, you’ll want to check this out. Read our full The Watcher series review here!

THE WATCHER is a new Netflix mini-series with seven episodes. It’s based on a true story, which is insanely creepy and intensely scary. I have heard about the true crime case before, and this is very much a horror-drama-mystery, which are the official genres of this new Ryan Murphy series on Netflix.

MORE NEW SERIES FROM RYAN MURPHY Check out  Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story  which is (obviously) also based on a true story >

The cast is absolutely brilliant and chock-full of actors that you’ll know from other amazing series (and movies). The story itself seems too strange and wild to be true, but it absolutely is. It’s based on the infamous “Watcher” house in New Jersey , which makes it all the more terrifying.

Continue reading our The Watcher series review below. The series premieres on Netflix on October 13, 2022.

The stuff nightmares are made of

This new horror-mystery series begins when Dean (Bobby Cannavale) and Nora Brannock (Naomi Watts) decide to move from New York City to the suburbs. They purchase their dream home in the idyllic suburb of Westfield, New Jersey.

Here they meet Karen (Jennifer Coolidge), who is both the realtor and an old acquaintance of Nora’s. She seems more concerned with getting them to sell the house again, than welcoming them to the area. They never manage to enjoy this new home for long in any case.

Shortly after putting every last cent of their savings into the house, they come to learn that this suburban neighborhood is anything but welcoming.

Also, there are some extremely weird, invasive, and very direct neighbors.

You’ll meet the kooky older woman named Pearl (Mia Farrow) and her brother Jasper (Terry Kinney). The latter even sneaks into the Brannock’s house to play with their dumbwaiter. And Pearl gets very  upset when the family finds it weird that a very grown man just shows up in their house at all hours.

Also, the nosy neighbors Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale) definitely don’t respect property lines. They do, however, enjoy sitting in front of their own house, in lawn chairs, just sipping lemonade and staring at the new neighbors.

However bad the icy welcome of their neighbors may be, it’s nothing compared to what comes next: Ominous and very specific letters start to show up. All from someone calling themselves “The Watcher”.

The Watcher (2022) – Review | Netflix Series

Amazing character portrayals

The letters from “The Watcher” quickly terrorize the Brannocks to their breaking point. Both due to very specific information and barely (if at all) hidden threats  and  physical things happenings inside and around the house.

Dean Brannock is quick to look into it, and this is when the more sinister secrets of this “lovely” neighborhood come spilling out.

While the story itself is more than enough to check out this Netflix series, the actors in it are what will keep you hooked. Bobby Cannavale ( Nine Perfect Strangers ) and Naomi Watts ( Goodnight Mommy ) work really  well as the married couple making the move to the safe and quiet suburb of Westfield, New Jersey.

Their kids are portrayed by Luke David Blumm ( the 2021 horror movie Son ) as the young Carter, and Isabel Gravitt ( Little Fires Everywhere ) as the teenager Ellie, who is growing up very fast. Far too quickly for her dad to keep up.

Jennifer Coolidge ( The White Lotus ) offers some quirky sass but never goes too far into anything silly. This is a terrifying story, not a silly one. As a private detective, Theodora Birch, hired by Dean, we see the always intriguing Noma Dumezweni ( The Undoing ).

Mia Farrow ( Rosemary’s Baby ) is channeling an extremely efficient kind of creepy neighbor as “Pearl” with Terry Kinney ( Oz , The Little Things ) as her brother, who is more big and dumb than creepy.

Finally, Richard Kind ( Gotham ) and Margo Martindale ( Orphan , Dexter ) are brilliant as the nosy neighbors who feel extremely entitled to “their” arugula! You’ll see.

Check out The Watcher  mini-series on Netflix now!

Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan are the creators of the Netflix series The Watcher . The two also co-created series such as  DAHMER – Monster  and  Scream Queens . Overall, Ian Brennan has written on  many  Ryan Murphy shows over the years. Including  Ratched , which I really loved as well.

The pilot episode of this latest Netflix series was directed by Ryan Murphy himself. Other episodes are directed by familiar names such as Paris Barclay (Dahmer, Sons of Anarchy) and Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost ( Paranormal Activity 3 & 4, Nerve , Viral ), and Max Winkler ( Cruel Summer ).

You can watch all seven hour-long episodes on Netflix now and they tend to end on a cliffhanger, so this is very binge-worthy. Just be ready to get a little paranoid – or maybe just appreciate the home you live in despite the things that irritate you. Watching this series will surely show you that things could be a lot worse!

The Watcher  is out on Netflix globally from October 13, 2022.

Creators: Ryan Murphy & Ian Brennan Cast: Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Coolidge, Mia Farrow, Margo Martindale, Terry Kinney, Joe Mantello, Richard Kind, Noma Dumezweni, Christopher McDonald, Michael Nouri, Isabel Gravitt, Henry Hunter Hall, Luke David Blumm

After the Brannock family moves into what was supposed to be their suburban dream home, it quickly becomes a living hell. Ominous letters from someone calling themself “The Watcher” are just the beginning as the neighborhood’s sinister secrets come spilling out. Inspired by the true story of the infamous “Watcher” house in New Jersey.
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Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard

Karina "ScreamQueen" Adelgaard

I write reviews and recaps on Heaven of Horror. And yes, it does happen that I find myself screaming, when watching a good horror movie. I love psychological horror, survival horror and kick-ass women. Also, I have a huge soft spot for a good horror-comedy. Oh yeah, and I absolutely HATE when animals are harmed in movies, so I will immediately think less of any movie, where animals are harmed for entertainment (even if the animals are just really good actors). Fortunately, horror doesn't use this nearly as much as comedy. And people assume horror lovers are the messed up ones. Go figure!

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Maika Monroe in Watcher.

Watcher review – gaslighting and murder in Romania-set Hitchcockian thriller

A lonely resting actor in Bucharest becomes more and more disturbed by nearby events and is not reassured by her husband

N ot to be confused with the recent Netflix hit series, this is in fact a very solidly engineered Hitchcockian throwback. Company man Karl Glusman and resting actor Maika Monroe are the upwardly mobile young Americans relocating to a Bucharest bolthole boasting a prominent picture window; with hubby out schmoozing clients, his better half has time enough to dwell on a gruesome local murder spree, and the silhouetted figure peering down from an adjacent property. Suspicion shifts and moves closer and closer to home, but on one point Chloe Okuno’s film remains resolute: these characters would have avoided a lot of grief had they invested in net curtains. As recently as Wes Craven’s Red Eye in 2005 , we could take this species of medium-budget runaround for granted. Yet Watcher offers not just relief that it exists, but actual, genuine, old-fashioned thrills. Striding confidently into studio terrain after contributing to last year’s V/H/S/94 horror anthology , Okuno works up a muted style and aces the setpieces: retooling passing extras as peripheral threats as the sound design goes right through you. She has punched up an underlying psychology in Zack Ford’s script: the wife’s mounting fears compounded by frustration at a Rational Spouse seeking to explain them away as girly misunderstanding. (Glusman’s heroically regrettable moustache offers its own grounds for divorce.)

Okuno describes this gaslighting for what it is, and that permits us the rare privilege of a mainstream thriller heroine who actually errs on the side of caution throughout. As in 2014’s It Follows , Monroe is no pushover, and her reward for persistence, amid the nicely unpredictable finale, is a “told you so” moment for the ages. Unimprovably brisk at 91 minutes, Watcher is not messing around – and probably won’t hang around long in cinemas with starry awards fare in the offing. But a few more of these nifty diversions, and the multiplexes might once again be a viable night out.

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‘Atlas’ has finally landed on Netflix — and the reviews are just as shocking as the movie’s AI

Is this the next groundbreaking sci-fi movie or should it float away into space?

Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd in Atlas

Netflix has a pretty juicy slate for this year, with some highly anticipated movies and TV shows set to hit the streamer. One includes “Atlas”, the sci-fi thriller that generated a good amount of excitement when the trailer landed. Today it arrived on Netflix , and not even a full day later has received some very surprising reviews.

Jennifer Lopez plays the lead character in this thrilling movie set in space. She’s known for her other projects like “The Mother”, “Hustlers”, and “The Backup Plan”, and so I'd assumed “Atlas” would be in safe hands. However, her performance, along with the general narrative and action sequences, have been put under the spotlight since its debut. 

Is this movie worth watching or should you skip it? Let’s delve into the plot and what critics are currently saying about it. 

What is ‘Atlas’ about? 

“Atlas” follows a post-apocalyptic world that has fallen after the destruction of humanity, all because a rebellious robot wanted to eliminate mankind. Harlan (Simu Liu), the robot in question, ventures into space and promises to return to Earth again. To put an end to his genocidal behavior, data analyst Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) goes on a mission to capture him, despite being incredibly distrustful of AI. 

The world once had humans and robots existing together. As you can imagine, Atlas now struggles to confront anything remotely robotic on her mission, but that changes when she meets an AI named Smith (voiced by Gregory James Cohan) while in a mechanical suit. 

This sci-fi thriller has an interesting premise that makes you think about the potential dangers of AI progression. Our world has always been interested in computers and machines, and the very idea of technology turning against us is unsettling. That’s why “Atlas” works as a movie, but professional critics have other things to say.

The reviews aren’t out of this world

Despite “Atlas” having an interesting and thrilling premise, it didn’t really stand out in the sci-fi genre according to critics. The movie currently sits at around 14% on Rotten Tomatoes , obviously very low for a big-budget Netflix original. However, keep in mind this score can change the more reviews it generates over time. 

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Ross McIndoe from Slant Magazine said: “Atlas seems like a story that should have been experienced with a gamepad in hand.” The Wrap’s William Bibbiani also shared a similar opinion by saying: “Hidden somewhere beneath all the generic dialogue, embarrassing plot, mediocre action and oddly ineffective performances, there’s a good idea in Brad Peyton’s Atlas. It’s a shame the filmmakers never found it.” 

Todd Gilchrist from Variety didn’t enjoy the conventional structure that “Atlas” followed. It held a “dearth of original ideas that undercuts the appeal of Atlas, leaving Lopez to fend for herself in much the same way her character is forced to in the film’s formulaic story.” 

However, even though the score is low and the reviews are pretty negative, I don’t want to completely bash this movie. And it’s only fair for people to form their own opinions, considering everyone has preferences when it comes to sci-fi thrillers. Matt Donato from IGN Movies said: “Atlas might not be the next groundbreaking sci-fi epic, but Brad Peyton’s humanity-vs.-AI saga earns points for entertaining us.”

‘Atlas’ is an easy watch that shouldn’t be taken seriously

Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd in Atlas

If I’m being completely honest, most movies and TV shows nowadays are taken too seriously. The more general blockbusters are supposed to be entertaining and fun, with visually pleasing effects that keep you hooked on the action. This is much like “Atlas”, which is a fun watch with an unsettling undertone focused on the dangers of evolving AI. 

Of course, critics do a professional assessment on a movie, but they’re looking into every detail to create an accurate opinion. Being part of the audience, we’re supposed to just take it in and enjoy the movie as a casual viewer. This is why I think you should give “Atlas” a chance, especially if you’re big into dramatic action sequences and have enjoyed movies like “Terminator” and “Pacific Rim”. 

Want to get yourself in the sci-fi mood before watching? Check out the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now or take a look at the shows worth streaming in the top 10 . 

You can stream “Atlas” on Netflix now.  

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Alix is a Streaming Writer at Tom’s Guide, which basically means watching the best movies and TV shows and then writing about them. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer for Screen Rant and Bough Digital, both of which sparked her interest in the entertainment industry. When she’s not writing about the latest movies and TV shows, she’s either playing horror video games on her PC or working on her first novel.

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  • wrerkec Oooh, you lost me with Pacific Rim. A terrible movie that put me to sleep with little plot and weak characters. The definition of a movie that expects the special effects to carry it. However, in a movie I either need to know why we're seeing special effects or care about the characters. Pacific Rim did neither well, and the science was just bad. So I guess I'm gonna pass on Atlas . Reply
  • John S Evans Atlas is a thinly disguised ‘Aliens’ movie possibly aimed at young viewers who have not seen the much better Aliens movie. Another ‘wokerised’ remake. The effects are good the plot is about a ‘brilliant’ woman who sees the kinda obvious that for some bizarre reason no-one else can and somehow travels quickly to an impossibly distant planet. All one assumes because she is just so very clever - really. So many of the themes are just pale reflections of the Alien movies. Still fun if you just want to enjoy the visual effects perhaps. Reply
  • AirKwa So is this movie as terrible as it looks or is it worse? Reply
  • View All 3 Comments

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Movie Review: Glen Powell gives big leading man energy in ‘Hit Man’

This image released by Netflix shows Adria Arjona, left, and Glen Powell in a scene from "Hit Man." (Netflix via AP)

This image released by Netflix shows Adria Arjona, left, and Glen Powell in a scene from “Hit Man.” (Netflix via AP)

This image released by Netflix shows Glen Powell in a scene from “Hit Man.” (Netflix via AP)

This image released by Netflix shows Glen Powell, left, and Richard Robichaux in a scene from “Hit Man.” (Netflix via AP)

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For a guy like Glen Powell, the ascent to movie stardom isn’t really a question. It’s more like an inevitability.

Blessed with that square jawline, those bright green eyes, a flop of dirty blonde hair and the kind of symmetrical smile that would seem suspect if it weren’t so darn charming, he’s a Disney prince before they all became the bad guys. And he’s got the kind of effortless, high-wattage charisma that ensures a career beyond soaps and procedurals, the typical resting ground for the laughably handsome. Powell has something, you believe, going on behind the eyes.

This is all to say that suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite going into “Hit Man,” a decently entertaining action-comedy-romance about a fake hit man from filmmaker Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the script with Powell. It’s making a brief stop in theaters starting Friday before hitting Netflix on June 7.

Based on a “somewhat true story” though it may be, this is a film that asks its audience to buy into the idea that the characters in this film believe that Powell’s face is bland and forgettable. This has everything to do with his character, Gary Johnson, a philosophy professor in New Orleans who lives a quiet, solitary life in the suburbs tending to his two cats, birding, tinkering with electronics and helping the local police install surveillance equipment for sting operations. He drives a Honda Civic and wears ill-fitting polo shirts, knee-length jean shorts and socks with his semi-orthopedic sandals. And, of course, like many hot guys in disguise before him, he’s got a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Why he dresses like your middle-aged uncle in 1992 is anyone’s guess. Were he in Bushwick, it might not even look odd. But this is a movie and we know that Gary is predestined for a glow-up.

This image released by Netflix shows Adria Arjona, left, and Glen Powell in a scene from "Hit Man." (Netflix via AP)

Not that “Hit Man” allows itself to have any fun with the makeover aspect. No, once plain Gary is thrown into this amateur undercover work (by Retta and Sanjay Rao), we only get to see the final looks he wears to meet all the people looking to hire a hit man. He dips into the theatrical for these occasions, sporting wigs, makeup, accents and fake tattoos in his attempt to be what he thinks each specific person thinks a hit man should be, which is moderately amusing.

But besides a brief bit showing him watching a wig-and-makeup YouTube tutorial, his transformations are not exactly investigated. There’s no shopping montage, no Harvey Fierstein-type character helping him find his way around the college theater department’s costume room, and no apparent budgetary concerns or discussions, which seems odd for a guy who is only doing this undercover stuff for an extra paycheck. In a movie that perhaps had a better engine behind it, questions like these might evaporate with the laughter and enjoyment of a fairly silly premise. “Hit Man” does not quite have that, though. Again, that suspension of disbelief is necessary.

Things do pick up with the introduction of The Girl, Madison (Adria Arjona, terrific despite being awfully underdeveloped), an unhappy wife looking to get rid of her cruel husband. Gary meets her as “Ron,” who acts and dresses like the leading man of an action movie, or a cocky off-duty movie star, with well-fitting jeans and tight henleys and cool-guy jackets showing off his inexplicably ripped physique.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows characters Odie, voiced by Harvey Guillén, from left, Vic, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and Garfield, voiced by Chris Pratt, in a scene from the animated film "The Garfield Movie." (Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

And he treats Madison differently than the many other characters he’s helped put behind bars whose stupidity, trashiness and ugliness are all played for madcap comedic effect. She, he decides, doesn’t really want this — a grace he extends to no one else. He talks her out of hiring him to kill the bad husband, whom she promptly leaves without incident before moving into a nice house and beginning a steamy romance with Ron.

Again, questions arise about how this woman whose husband didn’t allow her to work and who was so scared of him that she was ready to hire a hit man has managed to escape so smoothly. But, you know, good for her and good for us because the chemistry between her and Powell is electric and ravenous, up there with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in “Out of Sight.”

But the honeymoon only lasts so long and things soon get tricky as Ron starts to become Gary’s dominant character. This all builds to a fairly exciting third act with the introduction of an actual murder and the possibility of being exposed by an increasingly suspicious and crooked cop (played with slimy perfection by Austin Amelio). And you can’t help shake the feeling that it needed something else: a bigger twist, a stickier conflict, some heightened stakes.

“Hit Man” was a movie that got some breathless praise out of the fall film festivals, which might be to its detriment. It’s perfectly enjoyable: a glossy, easy-to-digest Powell showcase that isn’t trying to be anything but fun. But the second coming of the action-comedy-romance, it is not.

“Hit Man,” a Netflix release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “language throughout, sexual content and some violence.” Running time: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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5 great Netflix shows you should watch on Memorial Day weekend

A man and a woman look at each other in Baby Reindeer.

Netflix seems to release one new show worth watching almost every week, but very few people have the time to keep up with all of that content. Thankfully, the federal government throws us the occasional long weekend that also serves as the perfect excuse to catch up on whatever shows on Netflix you may have missed when they first debuted.

Heartstopper (2022)

Baby reindeer (2024), russian doll (2019), blue eye samurai (2023).

If you’re struggling to remember which shows are worth watching, though, we’ve got you covered. We’ve selected five great shows worth checking out on the streamer that range from lighthearted to darker and more cynical. No matter what you’re into, you’ll hopefully find something worth exploring on this list.

One of the sweetest shows Netflix has ever produced, Heartstopper   tells the story of two teenage boys who discover that their friendship may actually be something more. The series is whimsical and wonderful, and just the kind of romantic dramedy we don’t get enough of anymore.

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For all of its lighthearted moments, though, this is also a show that takes the emotional journeys of its two central characters very seriously.  Heartstopper  is a hard show not to love no matter who you are, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours during the long, lazy weekend.

One of the more disturbing shows to ever come to Netflix, Baby Reindeer   is loosely based on a true story from its star and creator, Richard Gadd, and follows a stand-up comedian who finds himself dealing with a stalker.

The show’s brilliance, though, is in the ways in which he encourages his stalker, and then finds himself overwhelmed by his own traumas as she ingratiates herself deeper and deeper into his life.  Baby Reindeer  is often a pretty unsettling watch, but it’s deeply rewarding if you’re looking for something both tense and thought-provoking to get you through the weekend.

Even in a highly crowded TV landscape, there’s no show quite like  Russian Doll . Telling the story of a New York programmer who finds herself trapped in the day she dies over and over again, the series is bolstered by Fantastic Four  star Natasha Lyonne’s dynamic, incredible central performance.

The show’s twists and turns, as well as its more uneven second season, are best left unspoiled. If you’re looking for something offbeat, funny, and gripping, though, Russian Doll  may be the best place to start.

Feudal Japan is having something of a pop culture moment, and Blue Eye Samurai   is one of the best examples. The show tells the story of a female samurai living in that era who is on a quest for revenge against the white men who could be her father and are living in Japan in secret.

Featuring stunning animation, a brilliant voice cast, and riveting storytelling,  Blue Eye Samurai  is all the proof you need that, in spite of the stereotypes around the format, animation can very much be for adults, and in this case, really for adults only.

A brilliant, twisted show about the way in which misogyny is able to constantly change and evolve,  You  tells the story of Joe Goldberg, a man with psychopathic, murderous tendencies who tells himself that his actions protect the women around him.

The first season of  You  was so popular after it hit Netflix that the show was purchased by the streaming service and has now gone through four seasons. The events of each season are batty in the best possible way, and the rotating cast of co-stars is just as good as Penn Badgley in the lead role. Wherever Joe finds himself, he’s likely to encounter someone he believes to be worth murdering.

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Almost a full decade after the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller is back making movies in the universe that has defined his legacy. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga hit theaters on May 24, and if you're coming out of that movie on a high, you might be looking for other movies that will give you a similar feeling.

While the obvious place to start is likely with the rest of the Mad Max saga, and with Fury Road in particular, those picks are a little too on the nose for this list. Instead, we're assuming that you want the same highs that Furiosa gave you, but are looking outside of the Mad Max franchise. We've selected three movies with similar vibes that are the perfect place to get started. The Northman (2022) THE NORTHMAN - Official Trailer - Only In Theaters April 22

Memorial Day is the time to honor all the men and women who gave their lives to fighting for our country. It’s also a day to celebrate the brave individuals who fought and survived, and those who continue to defend the U.S. As a federal holiday, many people use this day to visit lost family, friends, and others at cemeteries while also looking ahead to brighter days and the upcoming summer season.

If you’re spending quiet time at home with loved ones, you might want to curl up with a good movie. We have rounded up these three great Tubi movies featuring war and military themes that you should watch on Memorial Day. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) All Quiet on the Western Front Official Trailer #1 - Lew Ayres Movie (1930) HD

We're thankfully living in an era when more and more foreign movies and TV shows can become genuine phenomena in the U.S. Thanks to the increasing use of subtitles, and the global distribution of many of these movies, we can see the best of what cinema has to offer from all around the world.

Amazon Prime Video is home to many of these titles, as well as a broader selection of great movies that cut across every imaginable genre. If you're struggling to find just one movie to watch, you should start with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie was a major phenomenon in the U.S. in an era when few international movies got that treatment, and it's also leaving Prime Video at the end of May. Here are three reasons you should check it out. It stars Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh

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Should You Watch ‘Atlas’? Review of Jennifer Lopez’s Second Netflix Movie

The latest Jennifer Lopez Netflix film, Atlas, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?

Andrew Morgan What's on Netflix Avatar

Atlas. Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix ©2024.

From ASAP Entertainment & super producer Greg Berlanti (“Arrow”, “You”), Atlas brings multi-hyphenate megastar Jennifer Lopez back to Netflix after her popular breakout hit The Mother, which was reported to be Netflix’s most-watched film of 2023 and a Top 10 Netflix film all-time in terms of hours viewed.

Directed by action film director Brad Peyton (Rampage, San Andreas), the film follows Atlas, a top military intelligence officer who has spent years pursuing Earth’s first AI terrorist Harlan, a renegade robot created by Atlas’ mother and raised alongside Atlas in her youth. Brought in on a mission to pursue & capture Harlan on a nearby planet, she is forced to confront her deep distrust of artificial intelligence, her lack of field experience, and her emotional trauma after Harlan’s destruction of her family and our world as we knew it.

However, when plans go awry, Atlas has to don an AI driven mechanical armored suit and work with the AI program known as “Smith” in order to survive. Faced with enemy hostiles and limited resources, she has to bond with “Smith” to gain their full potential and take on Harlan before time, and her oxygen, runs out.

Beyond Lopez in the titular lead, Atlas displays a well-known, veteran cast featuring Simu Liu ( Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ) as AI terrorist bot Harlan, Sterling K. Brown ( American Fiction , This is Us ) as Colonel Banks, Abraham Popoola ( Extraordinary ) as Harlan’s top lieutenant Casca, Mark Strong ( Kingsman: The Secret Service , Murder Mystery 2 ) as General Jake Boothe, & Gregory James Cohan ( The VelociPastor) as the voice of mech suit AI “Smith”.

In fact, the cast is the only reason to watch Atlas. With video game transitional-level CGI and a script devoid of strong, foundational connections, Atlas becomes hard to take for much of its runtime.

Atlas. Jennifer Lopez As Atlas Shepherd. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2024.

Atlas. Jennifer Lopez as Atlas Shepherd. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024.

The film takes implausible lengths to try to establish a bond between Lopez’s Atlas & the “Smith” AI. Using her reluctance to expose her past with Harlan as an excuse why the synching system won’t work is simply a pathetic manipulation. Essentially, using “Smith” as a therapist to achieve full sync and escape Harlan’s clutches is poor writing & scientifically ridiculous. Forced flashbacks & exposition often replace genuine realizations & relationship-building.

Director Brad Peyton noted that their pitch was that they thought of the film as Castaway if Wilson could talk back. I can’t express enough how naive that thought is. Wilson was an expression for Tom Hanks’ character slowly becoming more desperate, lonely, & mentally unstable over a long period of time. Wilson was a lifeline and a need for connection that could not be reached until he gave it a face. The hubris to think that the level of connection to Wilson can be achieved by an AI asking a few questions over a short period of time is as thin and short-sided as the script itself.

The only thing that DOES work in any form in this film is when real-life established actors interact with each other. Though he plays a robot, Simu Liu as Harlan finally getting to play off Lopez’s fear & distrust in the final act of the film lets the audience finally see what their interactions feel like and what makes Harlan a force to be reckoned with. Sterling K. Brown brings the most personality and wit in the film performing alongside Atlas & General Boothe, breathing life in-between cold, lifeless CGI-driven violence.

Nothing epitomizes how ineffective this movie’s construction is more than the final moments of the story. Even though they use chess matches & cerebral tactics as the link between Atlas & Harlan, the film ends up in a basic CGI fight that barely engages in advanced thinking. And of course when the fight is over and the emotional shift focuses on the bond between Atlas & “Smith” once more, they force one more conversation based on the most rudimentary things we know about Atlas like how she likes her coffee. As the two are forced to part, I felt absolutely nothing and would love to hear from anyone who actually felt something.

Atl Mrkt 01 V3001 1

Atlas. Jennifer Lopez as Atlas. Cr. Ana Carballosa/Netflix ©2023

This is a tough beat for Jennifer Lopez who continues to show her dedication to roles that simply don’t deserve it. She may be looking to branch out to more action-centric films as she evolves her career like Charlize Theron or Kate Beckinsale before her, but she seems to be dumpster diving for the scripts to do it in. For an actress/artist who seems to pour everything into what she does, I hope she finds better soon.

Overall, Atlas is a sci-fi action/adventure film that doesn’t satisfy in any of the 3 genres. The action is overly CGI-generated with unimaginative, video game-level construction. The adventure never lives up as the mission most often gives way to emotionally exaggerated & tonally forced conversation between Atlas & “Smith”. And, of course, the Sci-Fi only serves to have a philosophical debate over whether AI creations are alive & when is a good time to give ourselves over to them. Jennifer Lopez always seems to put all of herself into her roles, but this one was too hollow to fill in the first place.

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MVP of Atlas

The supporting human cast.

While Jennifer Lopez overacted her trauma or talked to no one in front of a green screen, it was the supporting cast that brought out the best of what this movie could have been capable of.

Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, & Mark Strong gave gravitas, depth, & occasional charm to a movie that desperately needed it as it avoided human interaction by design.

If we only had more flashbacks to Atlas’ youth to get more Harlan/Liu, the movie would have been better served. More conversations on strategy would have shown more of Atlas’ value to the mission & authority as an analyst/expert on Harlan. It would have also given us more of Brown & Strong who tried their best to give the mission a little more color & authority.

A movie about trusting a better AI to help defeat the previous AI who ruined our trust & almost destroyed all of humanity. Sounds like a movie only an AI could write or love. I sure didn’t.

Andrew Morgan is a film critic & podcaster with 20 years of experience on the sets & offices of film & television. Current podcast host of the entertainment review show, Recent Activity. He lives in the Northeast of the United States.

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‘Atlas’ Review: A.I. Shrugged

Jennifer Lopez stars in a sci-fi action thriller that wonders whether artificial intelligence is really all that bad.

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A woman sits concentrating at a control panel, a worried look on her face.

By Alissa Wilkinson

In 1927, a humanoid robot showed up and wreaked havoc in Fritz Lang’s expressionist science fiction film “Metropolis,” a memorable early example of cinema’s artificial intelligence antagonists. Since then, many a sci-fi movie, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the “Terminator” offerings to “The Matrix,” has proposed that some kind of A.I. will try to take us out.

But it’s scarier now. No longer is a menacing A.I. a thought experiment, mere metaphor. Every script with an A.I. villain operates in a world where the audience has probably thought about, or used, an actual A.I. to do some kind of task. So the notion of an “A.I. terrorist,” as in Brad Peyton’s new sci-fi action movie “Atlas,” seems queasily plausible.

That terrorist has a name: Harlan (Simu Liu). In a fast-moving prologue, we quickly learn how he came to threaten humanity with extinction, wiping out millions of people before abruptly decamping for outer space. Humans, left behind on a “Blade Runner”-looking earth, protected only by the International Coalition of Nations (I.C.N.), wait uneasily for Harlan’s return, like a cutting-edge second coming of Christ.

After 28 years of peering nervously at the skies, the I.C.N. captures an A.I. bot known to be associated with Harlan. Something is afoot. A scientist named Atlas Shepherd (Jennifer Lopez) is called in as the world’s leading expert on Harlan — in part because her mother, Val Shepherd, the founder of Shepherd Robotics, created Harlan and raised him alongside Atlas. At the request of Gen. Jake Boothe (Mark Strong), Atlas boards a spacecraft commanded by Col. Elias Banks (Sterling K. Brown), headed for the planet where they’ve discovered Harlan has been hiding out.

You can tell from these names that “Atlas,” which Peyton directed from a script by Leo Sardarian and Aron Eli Coleite, is highly referential. (Or, perhaps, derivative.) Harlan shares a name with Harlan Ellison, the eminent speculative fiction author. Atlas is bearing the weight of the world on her shoulders; Lopez, who was also a producer on the movie, flings herself into the role with abandon, the kind of performance that’s especially impressive given that she’s largely by herself throughout. Her character’s last name, Shepherd, seems both metaphorical and maybe a link to a beloved character from the sci-fi show “Firefly.” I could keep digging, but you get the idea. At times “Atlas” feels like pure pastiche, and it looks, in a fashion we’re getting used to seeing on the streamers, kind of cheap, dark, plasticky and fake, particularly in the big action sequences. Science fiction often earns its place in memory by envisioning something new and startling — but with “Atlas,” we’ve seen it all before.

It does, however, try to pose some potent questions. For some reason, the extermination of millions of humans by A.I. has not halted the use of artificial intelligence in this world as it did in, say, the universe of “Dune.” (Actually, that kind of checks out.) Instead, they’re ubiquitous, companions that play chess and adjust your home heating system but also talk to you and keep an eye on you. Despite having an A.I. in her home, Atlas is extremely suspicious of the technology. So most of the movie’s tension comes from her relationship to an A.I. named Smith (perhaps another reference, this time to “The Matrix”), with which she’ll have to sync her own mind to survive.

It’s an intriguing concept, since an open question both onscreen and in real life is whether A.I. is inherently good, or bad, or neutral, or some other fourth thing we haven’t quite put words to yet. Sometimes, the movies — like Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” — have suggested that these creatures we may build are capable of loyalty and love, and that humanity’s proclivity for the opposite is the real problem. Sometimes (as in, say, Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” ), we end up on their side.

“Atlas” is also primarily concerned with the morality of artificial intelligence, and who’s at fault if it all goes wrong. This is where things get a little weird. After all, it’s hard to forget that A.I. itself was a sticking point in last year’s Hollywood strikes , in which Netflix, which is distributing “Atlas,” was very much a player. Is A.I. going to destroy the industry — maybe a lot of industries? Or will it save the world? Is Atlas right to be skeptical?

The answer the movie gave surprised me, and not in a particularly good way. It’s a “bad apple” theory of artificial intelligence — that we’re wrong to stand in the way of progress, and that it’s all fine as long as it’s handled properly. Then again, I realized, watching “Atlas,” that my personal skepticism is not really about the technology itself. It’s not A.I. I’m worried about. It’s human nature I don’t trust.

Atlas Rated PG-13 for violence and for teaching an A.I. to swear. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

Alissa Wilkinson is a Times movie critic. She’s been writing about movies since 2005. More about Alissa Wilkinson

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    After awhile, the sense that anything is possible comes to mean that nothing surprises us, a bad thing for a show with at least a toe in earthbound, every-homeowner's-nightmare drama. The ...

  4. 'The Watcher' Review: Ryan Murphy's Starry Netflix Real-Estate Chiller

    The Watcher beefs up the saga by introducing more violent, more outrageous, just-plain-more twists. The series flirts with supernatural elements, a QAnon-ish conspiracy theory and (briefly ...

  5. The Watcher Ending Explained (In Detail)

    Warning: Spoilers for the Netflix series The Watcher! The ending of Netflix's The Watcher has proved divisive, yet the series' ambiguous coda has a hidden secret meaning. The Watcher is a Ryan Murphy miniseries loosely based on the true story of 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale play the fictionalized couple Nora and Dean Braddock, who move into a new ...

  6. The Watcher Ending Explained: Breaking Down Finale

    October 14, 2022 2:00 PM EDT. Spoiler alert: This piece discusses major plot points of Netflix's The Watcher, including the finale. On Sept. 21, Ryan Murphy unveiled Dahmer—Monster: The ...

  7. The Watcher, Netflix review

    The Watcher, Netflix review — true-crime thriller is all sensation and excess Seven-part series starring Naomi Watts indulges archness and schlocky shocks Meddlesome: Jennifer Coolidge, Naomi ...

  8. 'The Watcher' Review: An Outstandingly Terrifying Depiction of a True

    "The Watcher," Netflix's newest terrifying miniseries, is not just a scary show — the horrifying tale is a real cold case. The miniseries follows Dean and Nora Brannock, a couple based on ...

  9. 'The Watcher' Review: Ryan Murphy's Next True Crime Netflix Series Is a

    The 2018 New York Magazine feature "The Watcher" had all the makings of a taut, twisty and timely psychological thriller that triggered our universal neuroses about the illusions of privacy ...

  10. News, sport and opinion from the Guardian's US edition

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  11. The true story of The Watcher on Netflix: What's fact or fiction

    It might seem like a fictional bloodbath concocted for TV, but John Graff was inspired by the real crimes of John List, who, on Nov. 9, 1971, killed his family in identical fashion. Like Graff ...

  12. Review: Surrender to Netflix's 'The Watcher'

    A review of The Watcher, the Netflix limited series starring Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale as a couple who moves into a lovely home, only to be terrorized by disturbing anonymous letters.

  13. Watcher movie review & film summary (2022)

    The film crackles with icy dread. Silences are loud and sounds are even louder. Nothing has the right proportion. Ceilings are too high, stairways too long. Voices emerge as if from the bottom of a well. Spaces are empty that should be full and vice versa. The mundane is terrifying, and the terrifying seduces.

  14. Watcher (2022)

    Rated: 4/5 Nov 2, 2022 Full Review Brian Bisesi Horror Movie Club Podcast A taut story, elegant direction, and a rich, nuanced performance from Maika Monroe make Watcher a tense and unforgettable ...

  15. The Watcher (TV Series 2022- )

    The Watcher: Created by Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy. With Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, Mia Farrow, Terry Kinney. A married couple moving into their dream home are threatened by terrifying letters from a stalker, signed - "The Watcher."

  16. Watch The Watcher

    Ominous letters. Strange neighbors. Sinister threats. A family moves into their suburban dream home, only to discover they've inherited a nightmare. Watch trailers & learn more.

  17. The Watcher

    Upcoming Movies and TV shows; ... 54% Avg. Tomatometer 35 Reviews 35% Avg. Audience Score 500+ Ratings A family moves ... Watch The Watcher with a subscription on Netflix. Seasons. Season 1 54% ...

  18. The Watcher: Season 1

    Watch The Watcher — Season 1 with a subscription on Netflix. This suburban nightmare sometimes achieves the campy fright of creator Ryan Murphy's best horror fare, but it sprawls in too many ...

  19. The Watcher (2022 TV series)

    The Watcher is an American mystery thriller television series created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan for Netflix. It premiered on October 13, 2022. It is loosely based on a 2018 article by Reeves Wiedeman for New York magazine's website The Cut. Despite being originally conceived as a miniseries, The Watcher was renewed for a second season in November 2022.

  20. The Watcher (2022)

    THE WATCHER is a new Netflix mini-series with seven episodes. It's based on a true story, which is insanely creepy and intensely scary. I have heard about the true crime case before, and this is very much a horror-drama-mystery, which are the official genres of this new Ryan Murphy series on Netflix. The cast is absolutely brilliant and chock ...

  21. 'The Watcher' Netflix Limited Series: Everything We Know So Far

    The Watcher is Netflix's upcoming limited series based on a true story published in New York Magazine's The Cut. It comes from Ryan Murphy's output deal with Netflix and here's the latest on everything known about Netflix's The Watcher currently eying an October 2022 release date.. We unveiled exclusively The Watcher back in February 2021 with the news that Ryan Murphy is attached.

  22. Watcher review

    Okuno describes this gaslighting for what it is, and that permits us the rare privilege of a mainstream thriller heroine who actually errs on the side of caution throughout. As in 2014's It ...

  23. 'Watcher' Review: Terror, at a Glance

    When Julia's husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), gets a major promotion, the couple movies from New York to Bucharest, Romania. Francis, who is fluent in Romanian and can navigate the city much ...

  24. 6 New Movies Our Critics Are Talking About This Week

    An A.I. movie that sticks to the script. Jennifer Lopez stars in "Atlas," directed by Brad Peyton. Ana Carballosa/Netflix. 'Atlas'. In this sci-fi thriller, Jennifer Lopez plays Atlas, a ...

  25. 'Atlas' has finally landed on Netflix

    The movie currently sits at around 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, obviously very low for a big-budget Netflix original. However, keep in mind this score can change the more reviews it generates over time.

  26. Movie Review: Glen Powell gives big leading man energy in 'Hit Man'

    It's perfectly enjoyable: a glossy, easy-to-digest Powell showcase that isn't trying to be anything but fun. But the second coming of the action-comedy-romance, it is not. "Hit Man," a Netflix release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for "language throughout, sexual content and some violence.". Running time: 115 minutes.

  27. 5 great Netflix shows you should watch on Memorial Day weekend

    While other streamers don't have much new to offer for Memorial Day weekend, Netflix is bucking the trend by launching two new shows this week. The first is Tires, an old-school sitcom starring ...

  28. Should You Watch 'Atlas'? Review of Jennifer Lopez's Second Netflix Movie

    From ASAP Entertainment & super producer Greg Berlanti ("Arrow", "You"), Atlas brings multi-hyphenate megastar Jennifer Lopez back to Netflix after her popular breakout hit The Mother, which was reported to be Netflix's most-watched film of 2023 and a Top 10 Netflix film all-time in terms of hours viewed.

  29. 'Atlas' Review: A.I. Shrugged

    Atlas. Directed by Brad Peyton. Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller. PG-13. 1h 58m. Find Tickets. When you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an ...